US and Iran headed for a naval face-off over Yemen following the announcement Monday night that the USS Theodore Roosevelt, known as “The Big Stick,” was on its way to the Gulf of Aden to join the American naval force of nine warships building up to intercept any Iranian vessels carrying arms for Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The Roosevelt Strike Group 12 was dispatched from the Persian Gulf to head off an Iranian naval armada of 8-9 vessels on its way to the Gulf of Aden with fresh military supplies for the rebels.
The Roosevelt carrier is accompanied by US Navy destroyers and other vessels, including the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy. The US warships are carrying teams able to board and search vessels bound to deliver Iranian arms in accordance with UN resolutions.
The aircraft carrier’s arrival will notch up America’s active partnership in the blockade Saudi Arabia and Egypt have thrown up around Yemeni shores. It will underscore Washington’s resolve to pre-empt any attempt by Iranian warships to break this blockade, as well as the deepening US involvement against the Iranian-backed rebel forces in Yemen.
High-placed sources in Washington fear that the US, Saudi and Egyptian fleets piling up in the Gulf of Aden may fall to blows with Iranian warships over any attempt to drop military supplies on shore for the rebels.
On April 10, debkafile raised the possibility of a Saudi-Iranian collision at sea, after the Saudi army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Al-Assiri, warned: “Iranian ships have the right to be present in international waters, but won’t be allowed to enter Yemeni territorial waters.”
On the same day, Washington announced that the US Air Force had begun aerial refueling missions for the Saudi-led coalition forces conducting air strikes to stem the Houthi rebels’ advances.
Monday, April 20, the Saudi charge d’affaires in Tehran was summoned to the Iranian foreign ministry for a protest against Saudi air bombardment of the neighborhood in the capital Sanaa close to the Iranian embassy. There were no casualties but the building was damaged. Saudi Arabia said its target had been the largest Houthi arms arsenal in the city, which was located near the Iranian embassy.
This protest was indirectly addressed to Washington too, since the United States has made no secret of providing the Saudi Air Force with intelligence feeds for its strikes and therefore approval.